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LOWELL -- More paper ticket books will be given up in favor of digital scanners for some police departments in smaller cities in Northwest Arkansas.

Most larger municipalities already use some sort of e-ticketing software.

Lowell will roll out scanners and thermal printers in patrol vehicles in the next couple of months.

Police Chief Randy Harvey said the department worked the setup costs into the city budget six months ago. Only one company returned a bid, charging $27,833 for a system that gives the department four hand-held units.

Officers will be able to scan a driver's license and proof of registration and print out a ticket in their cars, Harvey said. Court information will be transferred electronically instead of written for court clerks to transcribe. State accident forms can be sent electronically also, instead of being printed and mailed for state employees to re-enter.

Standing outside a car and keeping eyes on a piece of paper and the situation at hand is a safety issue for officers, said Capt. Jeff O'Brien of the Prairie Grove Police Department.

There is also room for human error, he said.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law have estimated that 10 percent of all citations that go to court contain errors, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance. That 2003 report, the most recent available, argued that electronic citations could reduce or eliminate the most common errors -- misspellings, smudged copies and incorrect violation codes.

Arkansas' eCite system was first used in December 2012 by Arkansas State Police Troop K, according to a report from the Center for Advanced Public Safety at the University of Alabama.

Police in Little Rock do not use the electronic ticket system, spokesman Lt. Steve McClanahan said. But district courts in Pulaski County do allow violators to pay some traffic tickets electronically.

Farmington Police Chief Brian Hubbard said his city was an early adopter of e-ticketing and has had a digital ticket book since 2008. Officers can print tickets in their cars, and the mobile ticket book units are returned to the Police Department to sync with the court system and police files.

"There's a lot of agencies that are coming on board now," Little Flock Police Chief Jesse Martinez said.

Little Flock, a community of about 2,700 north of Rogers, moved its fleet of seven cars to a digital ticketing system in fall 2014, he said. Two weeks ago the city got an update from the state and now uses eCrash software to map wrecks with GPS data.

"I'm kind of a tech geek," Martinez said. "We're a small department, but I want to be on the cutting edge."

Writing a paper ticket could take 10 to 15 minutes, Martinez said. The electronic version takes about five minutes.

The software also allows Martinez to track when and where traffic stops are made.

Little Flock has seen a recent uptick in drug and alcohol arrests. People will use the city as a back door to Bentonville, Rogers and Pea Ridge, Martinez said.

"We get them coming through here because they're trying to stay off the main roads," he said.

There's a 30 mph speed limit in much of Little Flock, Martinez said, but it's unusual for a Little Flock officer to write a citation for a minor violation. Most tickets go to people going 15 mph over the speed limit, he said.

Traffic violations are not a moneymaker for small cities, Martinez said. Much of the money goes to the state. Nor are there incentives for officers to write more tickets, he said.

"We're not giving a toaster away every week," Martinez said.

Prairie Grove tested its e-ticketing system in November and finished installing it in January.

The city used free software available through Arkansas State Police and paid about $14,000 to outfit seven vehicles, O'Brien said. The technology was paid for through the city's court automation fund. The department purchased standard laptop computers, not military-grade ones designed to resist sun damage or being dropped on concrete.

The state software connects small cities to neighboring jurisdictions. Police can access court records through the Arkansas Crime Information Center. Police departments using eCite, the Arkansas State Police software, are connected to other cities using the same software.

More information is a benefit to the officer when dealing with known criminals, O'Brien said.

"The crime that affects Fayetteville also affects Prairie Grove. They're moving back and forth," he said.

Pea Ridge Police Chief Ryan Walker said an electronic ticketing system would be ideal. Larger departments might be able to purchase military-grade laptops, but a small department like his might look at refurbished equipment, Walker said. Pea Ridge police have 14 cars, and eight of those are patrol vehicles. Outfitting all of them with computerized units could be expensive, he said.

Business growth in Pea Ridge has meant more calls to police, Walker said.

Pea Ridge had 181 traffic stops in January, Walker said. Those would go more quickly if less time was spent handwriting tickets, he said.

Metro on 02/22/2016

Print Headline: Officers moving to digital citations

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